You Can Call Me Bill is awaiting a UK release date.
In October 2021, aged 90, William Shatner went into space. The man who had travelled the universe as Captain James T Kirk from the safety of studio sets finally got to see the Earth from above. It filled him with a sense of wonder and grief – his astonishment centred on the majesty of our spinning globe and his despair in our dismissal of its beauty and importance. Now aged 92, You Can Call Me Bill is Shatner unscripted as he explores his life, career and beliefs.
Far more than a retrospective exploration of a successful career in TV and film, You Can Call Me Bill is a profoundly personal reminiscence on life, family, old age and the beauty of our planet and its delicate ecosystem. Director Alexandre O. Philippe lets Shatner do the talking in an interview that allows for vast detours while never losing focus; it is a conventional yet bold portrait of life, mortality, performance and the natural world that often takes you by surprise in its raw honesty and emotion.
Shatner talks about his childhood in Montreal, his troubled relationship with his mother and his loving relationship with his father, who died before he found success with Star Trek. He talks about his two silver screen idols, Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando, and his first stage roles on Broadway before discussing the role of James T Kirk and his financial troubles when NBC cancelled Star Trek in 1969. With a twinkle in his eye, he discusses his love of comedy and the many TV shows in which he appeared, from Columbo to TJ Hooker. But the emotional depth sits within Shatner’s exploration of life, love, loneliness and nature.
As the conversation progresses, it’s clear that William Shatner has spent a lifetime mulling over the concept of a higher power, the foundations of our universe and the place and purpose of humans on our shining and fragile globe, themes he tried to bring to the screen in his only directorial outing, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier with little success. By allowing Shatner to talk openly and freely, Philippe paints a fascinating portrait of two men: a performer who revels in applause and loves the stage and a philosopher who knows he is nearer the end than the beginning.
Bill is most passionate when discussing the environment and our role as custodians of Earth; he talks in depth about his love of nature and his belief that when we die, it is game over until our body feeds a tree, a flower or a simple blade of grass. There’s a child-like wonder at the heart of these conversations, something Bill reflects on as he states, “As you get a job, and you get married, or you have children. Life’s exigencies prey on you, and that curiosity is generally beaten out of you in school and life. You lose the curiosity.” He is proud to have maintained that curiosity and never lost the boy who still resides in the frame of his 92-year-old body. As we listen, it is Bill, the boy, who constantly comes out to play in this surprisingly tender, loving and interesting documentary.
Far more than a retrospective exploration of a successful career in TV and films, You Can Call Me Bill is a profoundly personal reminiscence on life, family, old age and the beauty of our planet and its delicate ecosystem.